|Posted on May 20, 2012 at 9:25 AM|
Moral panic regarding the depiction of violence has dogged video game culture for almost thirty years. Scott’s (1995) study was unable to establish a correlation between playing violent video games, and increased aggressiveness. He found that the participants who were exposed to a number of violent games had their aggressiveness marginally increased, while those who played the moderately violent games actually decreased their aggressiveness. However, given that this study was conducted over 17 years ago, it is unclear whether such assertions can be directed towards modern video games, which feature far more detailed depictions of violence against realistically human character models.
According to a more recent study, conducted by Barthlow, Sestir and Davis (2005), exposure to violent video games does increase the short-term aggression and hostility of participants. After having their initial moods tested, participants were asked to play two separate video games – a violent game (Unreal Tournament), and a non-violent game (Myst). The study demonstrated that participants behaved more aggressively after playing the violent game, than after playing the non-violent game. However, the study was unable to identify the differences between short-term and long-term aggression. The study found that participants who had already been exposed to violent video games were more likely to exhibit aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not. This may imply that exposure does have long-term effects on temperament. However, the authors conclude that personality traits such as empathy can have just as much effect on increased aggression, and that rather than being a cause of aggression, violent media is more likely a single factor among dozens of potential causes of increased aggression.
A long-term study, conducted by Gentile, Lynch, Linder, and Walsh (2004), also found that exposure to violent video games correlated with increased hostility. This study focused on adolescent males, and concluded that the boys who exposed themselves to higher levels of video game violence were more likely to suffer from increased hostility (including physical fights and arguments with teachers), as well as decreased academic performance. This study was conducted over several months, which supports the previous study’s suggestion that aggression was increased long-term. It also derived data from a much wider pool (over six-hundred participants), but focused on a more specific gender and age bracket (boys, 14-15 yo). However, since adolescent boys are already more predisposed to act aggressively, violent video games may act as more of a trigger, than a actual cause.
One of problems prevalent in all three studies is that the concept of a “violent video game” is too generalised. As with film and television, the depiction of violence in media varies from case to case. Researchers should be asking themselves – is the violence realistically or gratuitously depicted? Is it supposed to be serious or comical? Are their consequences, and is the perpetrator rewarded or punished for their act? For example, you would not lump The Three Stooges, Goldfinger and Saving Private Ryan into the same category of violent media.
More importantly, however, is the nature of gameplay that the participants are exposed to. In all three studies, the participants were exposed to games of a competitive nature. My contention would be that it is video game competition, rather than violence, that sparks aggression. Rather than comparing violent games to non-violent games, we should be comparing competitive to co-operative games. Even if they depicted violence, video games that fostered co-operation might yield lower levels of aggression in participants.